just before dawn 1981 poster


3 Stars  1981/18/94m

“The nightmare has begun…”

Director/Writer: Jeff Lieberman / Writers: Joseph Middleton, Mark Arywitz / Cast: Deborah Benson, Gregg Henry, George Kennedy, Chris Lemmon, Ralph Seymour, Jamie Rose, Mike Kellin, Kati Powell, John Hunsaker.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “Where we’re going is no summer camp!”

This Oregon-shot campers-in-peril flick was somewhat overlooked at its late-1981 release, presumably due to the veritable tidal wave of similar films falling out of every nook, and the fact that Universal backed out of purchasing it, leaving it to be distributed by a small indie company, which tanked its chances of making a splash.

Therefore written off as just the next in a long line of Friday the 13th cash-ins, it’s a pleasant surprise that Just Before Dawn turned out to be one of the stronger examples of its era, with a very good atmosphere created by director Lieberman (who co-wrote under a pseudonym). Despite contemporaneous accusations of being too derivative of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Lieberman claimed never to have seen it at the point the film was shooting, instead taking most of his cues from Deliverance.

A quintet of teens – made up of more capable actors than usual – head into the mountains to explore the land that one of the group’s father’s has just acquired. They hike, swim, cross swaying rope bridges and scare away timid backwoods folk. But we know something had is coming, thanks to their run-in with a fleeing hunter, whose nephew copped a machete in the balls.

just before dawn 1981

Ignoring the warnings as usual, they eventually end up falling prey to a pair of inbred mountain-dwelling twin brothers (both played by Hunsaker), who treat the newcomers as toys, while George Kennedy’s ranger canters about the forest talking to his horse, Agatha.

Proceedings are overseen in a fairy standard manner, but there’s a great ending that reverses the character situation that existed at the start, with a particularly inventive method used by the final girl to claim victory over one of the loons.

Wrong Turn owes a lot to this one.

Blurbs-of-interest: Mike Kellin was Mel, the corrupt camp owner in Sleepaway Camp; George Kennedy was in Wacko; Ralph Seymour was in Killer Party; Jamie Rose was later in Playroom; Jeff Lieberman later directed Satan’s Little Helper.

Ne Pas Avoir D’enfants



3.5 Stars  2007/18/79m

“Don’t let her inside.”

Directors: Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo / Cast: Beatrice Dalle, Alysson Paradis, Nathalie Roussel, Francois-Regis Marchasson, Ludovic Berthillot, Emmanuel Lanzi, Nicolas Davauchelle, Aymen Saidi.

Body Count: 8

Here’s a weird failure – I watched this back in 2010 and obviously thought I’d added it to the site at the time, as my go-to wad of notes just says: “see”. Spoilers!

Soooo, this’ll be an awkward review as I don’t remember a whole lot about it beyond it being ridonkulously violent and gruesome, as – Wikipedia tells me – Vanessa Paradis’ youngser sister is an about-to-pop mom, whose husband died in the car crash she survived some months earlier.

Now, on Christmas Eve, a mystery woman shows up at her door asking to use the phone. Pregnant lady – Sarah – declines and when the woman gets weird, Sarah takes her photo through the window and from that, works out she’s been being stalked by this broad for some time.

Various other people find reasons to show up: A co-worker, Sarah’s mother, police, and crazy lady dispatches them all with knitting needles n’ such until the two go at it, and it’s revealed that crazy lady was in the other car and lost her baby, so now wants Sarah’s.

If you thought Haute Tension was going mental on the gross-o-meter, give this a spin. I’ve said it before and will again, but masses of blood doesn’t a great move make, and while Inside packs a lot of tension and a nail-biting dilemma, I’ve never wanted to see it again in the decade that has elapsed, so maybe it’s a good thing I’ve forgotten much of it.

Skate n’ stalk n’ slash

schizo 1976


3 Stars  1976/18/104m

“When the left had doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

Director: Pete Walker / Writers: David McGillvray & Murray Smith / Cast: Lynne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham, John Fraser, Jack Watson, Queenie Watts, Trisha Mortimer.

Body Count: 5

British sleaze-merchant Pete Walker directed this pre-Halloween stalker, which borrows more than just its titular connotations from Psycho.

The late Lynne Frederick (last wife of Peter Sellers) is professional skater Samantha, whose marriage gains enough column inches to attract the attention of silent-psycho Watson, who takes a big knife and catches the first train into London ,where he commences a campaign of creepy phone calls and day-to-day stalkage, sending the woman into despair.

But… is he the black gloved maniac who starts killing her nearest and dearest? Long term collaborator McGillivray parted ways with Walker after this film, feeling that the attempts to railroad the viewer down an alley of assumption made the fiend’s actual identity too obvious. However, compared to the avalanche of mystery-slashers that would arrive in the 1980s, Schizo is quite competent in keeping the face of the killer quite uncertain until it chooses to reveal them.

Frederick appears to struggle with some of the material, especially in the presence of the ever-fabulous Stephanie Beacham, consigned to the loyal best friend role again, who turns detective on Samantha’s behalf. There are some good murders peppered throughout: A knitting needle through the head and out of the eye, and a man skewered by machinery he falls on to. Alas, a good minute or more was scissored by the BBFC and wasn’t restored on the cut I saw.

Subtler than Walker’s previous films, Schizo serves as an interesting example of the slow gathering of elements that would be cemented by Carpenter and Cunningham shortly after, even if it’s a slightly crass Hitchcock imitation in isolation, and a reminder of how vile British wallpaper patterns were in the 1970s.

Blurb-of-interest: Jack Watson was also in Tower of Evil.

Jack the Ripper Retelling #357

from hell 2001


3.5 Stars  2001/18/117m

“Only the legend will survive.”

Directors: Albert Hughes & Allen Hughes / Writers: Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Terry Hayes & Rafael Yglesias / Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng, Katrin Cartlidge, Terence Harvey, Susan Lynch, Paul Rhys, Lesley Sharp.

Body Count: 8

If there is any sort of afterlife where the dead can observe the goings-on on Earth, I imagine whoever Jack the Ripper was, he’s chuckling at the sheer number of books, films, and documentaries about him. This time, the tale is grafted into a bleak slasher-cum-mystery box office hit, courtesy of twin-bro directors Albert and Allen Hughes, from the novel by Moore and Campbell.

Johnny Depp – along way from his humble Elm Street victim beginnings – is Abberline, an East End inspector with psychic abilities, who is assigned to find out who killed a local prostitute. True to the events of 1888, the murders continue and Abberline is drawn into the potentially dangerous possibility that the killer is part of a larger conspiracy that could harm the face of the Monarchy.

With a little help from final victim-to-be Mary Kelly (Graham) and the Queen’s ageing surgeon, Abberline begins piecing together the puzzle against the wishes of his pompous superiors, who frown at the theory that a ‘well-bred’ individual might be responsible. Meanwhile, gruesome slayings continue and the reality of the brutal dissections is rammed home – a ferocious throat-slashing sticks out – and the final notoriously stomach-churning act of evil is mercifully hardly shown.

from hell 2001 heather graham

The outcome is satisfying in terms of the world the film operates in, considering it’s unlikely the identity of the real Ripper will ever be 100% certain. The downbeat conclusion suits the grimy backdrop of Whitechapel and the observations of class differences in the era, but the almost I Know What You Did Last Summer-ness of the secret that the victims share requires some stretching of the imagination, that makes this “not just a slasher movie” movie feel more like a slasher movie.

Written out like this, the plot sounds quite stupid, but high-brow big screen slasher films, no matter how opaque they attempt to be, makes From Hell one of the more interesting variables on the genre conventions. Do not confuse with other JTR-pillaging slasher of 2001 Ripper: Letter from Hell.

Blurbs-of-interest: Depp appeared in another period-set slash-a-like Sleepy Hollow; Heather Graham played Casey in Stab in Scream 2; Jason Flemyng was in Seed of Chucky; Terence Harvey was in the 1989 slasher take on The Phantom of the Opera.

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